With so many services moving to the cloud, you might be asking yourself if you should move your VOIP phone system to the cloud, or hosted solution. Most companies still operate an on-premise solution which means the hardware is kept at your business and connects to a server located in your closet or data center. Such solutions have been around for decades, and companies have dozens of vendors from which to choose.
A cloud phone system (cloud VOIP) is one in which your phones connect to an off-site data center over the internet, and the only hardware you keep onsite are the phones themselves. But even physical phones (like the Cisco model below) are being replaced by software phones that run on Windows, Mac, or Linux computers.
For the last three years I’ve been using a cloud phone service from CounterPath called Bria. I still have an office extension from which I can be reached but the phone is located on whichever computer I’m using that day. I can even use the service through an app on my iPhone. In fact, I no longer own or use a physical phone at work.
But moving to a software-based phone hasn’t been without a few challenges which I’ll cover in more detail.
Bria 4 replaced my Plantronics speakerphone I used for many years
This week I want to take a look at some considerations to keep in mind when moving from an on-premise to cloud phone solution. Email might be the backbone of business communication, but don’t underestimate the importance of voice communication. When the phones are down, so does business for those who rely on reliable phone connections.
VOIP In The Cloud – Upfront And Maintenance Costs
I don’t like to lead with VOIP costs, but MSPs know this is going to be one of the first questions they’ll have an answer. It’s also one of the features cloud phone solutions tout the most aggressively. To keep things simple I’ll break down costs into two categories:
Upfront costs, as you might expect for a cloud product, are lower with a hosted solution. If you’re already running phones and devices that support SIP, you can use that same hardware with a hosted phone provider. It’s also easy and inexpensive to add new employees to the service because software phones can be used in place of more costly physical phones. Software, patches and support are built into the monthly costs and new features can be added or removed without much hassle. But the biggest savings usually come from the fact you won’t need to purchase servers, software licenses and interface cards required to run your on-premise solution since connections are made to those devices over the internet.
Maintenance costs can vary greatly depending on the size of your installation, but are typically lower for an on-premise solution once your install base reaches a certain threshold. Hosted solutions tend to be attractive to businesses with 50 or fewer employees because they don’t have the IT staff in house to manage the installation and ongoing support. For many larger installations an on-premise solution might be a better option, although I’m seeing many companies with more than 100 employees move to hosted solutions because it frees their IT department to focus on more immediate and pressing matters.
Digium provides a nifty ROI calculator you can use in planning. They offer both onsite and hosted products. From everything I’ve come across, if you have fewer than 50 users, a hosted solution should be your first consideration.
Features For VOIP Need To Be Preserved In The Cloud
Your phone system must work within the business model your company has adopted. I once worked at a company where all incoming sales calls were answered by a sales consultant. As calls increased, so did the pool of sales consultants. And then a manager came up with the idea that routing every sales call through a voicemail system would cut down on the number of new sales consultant hires. You can probably imagine what happened next. Calls slowed and sales dropped off a cliff. Nobody wanted to wait for a call back before placing an order. I once had a manager who told me that a customer with an open wallet or one with a credit card in hand should never wait more than a few seconds before being helped.
The popular Cisco SPA 303 is a business-class IP phone
If your company relies on advanced features such as queues, SIP trunking or video conferencing, you’ll want to make sure that moving to a cloud solution has those same features. The best cloud services allow the administrator to add or remove advanced features with a few clicks. Many businesses still rely on sending and receiving faxes, especially in the financial sector so make sure every feature is included with the new system before signing on the dotted line.
Scalability For Cloud Phone Systems
While often overlooked, scalability is especially important to fast-growing companies, and can be difficult to predict for an on-premise solution. Remember that the number of connections that can be made depends on the capacity of the on-site VOIP server. That means you may need to purchase more servers than you need today if you’re adding new employees at a rapid clip. In fact, you might be better off leasing your servers so you can swap them out for more capacity every few years. With a hosted solution you can add new users as needed without having to upgrade servers.
If you’re considering moving from an on-premise to a cloud solution, check with your provider because they might have tools and software to make the transition nearly seamless.
Quality Of Your Phone Calls
I realize this is a very subjective feature, but it’s only been recently that my hosted VOIP began to rival the former on-premise solution in call clarity. Both products require a stable network with enough bandwidth dedicated to VOIP, but a hosted solution has a lot more issues that can arise which are outside your control. An on-premise solution is still only as reliable as your network infrastructure, but it tends to rely on variables which IT can control. And it’s that control that IT is often hesitant to concede.
In my experience, call quality is now close enough between on-premise and hosted solutions that the discussion can move along to other factors. At the last company I worked for, we rolled out the hosted phone solution to marketing before inbound sales. That gave us time to work through a few kinks and test the software. We ended up making some minor changes to our network and testing the various codecs the VOIP software supported.
Even when we rolled out the new service to sales we gave them a few weeks to run both in parallel while we made sure everyone had all the training they needed on the new system. And this is where MSPs can provide a lot of value because some IT departments would rather not disrupt the apple cart. Your knowledge can help them work through the trade-offs and create a transition plan if you decide to move forward with a hosted solution.
Conclusion: How Cloud VOIP Can Help Your Business
Everyone who picks up a phone expects it to work, and while email has taken over much of the workload, a lot of business still takes place over the phone. It must work correctly and it must work every time. Both on-premise and hosted phone solutions have a lot to offer, but neither are the best solution for every company.
I recommend consulting with an MSP who has experience working with both on-premise and hosted solutions before making definite plans. And don’t be surprised if your current solution is the best option. At least for now.